Tell them to put their laptops away

By March 19, 2018 Leadership, Performance

Put laptops awayWe all know that group work starts with an ice breaker, expectations and ground rules. It is an important section to warm everyone up and get us all agreeing to how we will work together. On the ground rules someone will often mention putting phones and laptops away. For us this is common courtesy yet for some teams we work with this is such a problem that it has to be written down making it a public declaration. Too often it is not adhered to – and nobody says anything. The eyes roll, a few throats are cleared and meaningful looks are exchanged but no one calls out the behaviour.

Does this sound familiar in your team? You love your team mates but sometimes their behaviour drives you nuts, gets in the way of real performance and you wish ‘someone’ would say something. Well you are right; being accountable for your behaviours and those of your team mates is the bedrock of high performing teams. What hurts the team hurts the performance of the team and impacts on how you all work together.

Teams that do not hold each other to account are not as productive. The lack of attention to performance and behaviours creates resentment and different performance standards for different people. This encourages mediocrity as deadlines and deliverables are missed and the burden of discipline is pushed onto the leader.

Get accountability right and you will ensure that poor performers feel pressure to improve. You will identify problems quickly by questioning someone’s approach without hesitation which establishes respect among the team who are held to the same standard. One main advantage is that it avoids excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action – music to your ears?

So how does a team start to improve its accountability? It starts with the leader, if that is you stepping up and calling out unproductive behaviour is your job, you need to role model holding the team to account then others can follow suit. Discussing capability with your staff is relatively straight forward; you have the evidence on standards and performance and can discuss and hopefully close the gap with training, extra supervision, coaching etc. But what about behaviour? That’s trickier because it feels really personal – “John, we said no laptops in the meeting can you put it away”, feels a bit parental and often stops a leader pulling someone up. Yet how would you feel if we told you avoiding that conversation makes you a Pooh Bear leader?

Pooh Bear leaders smother their staff in cotton wool, their favourite avoidance tactics are:

· Excusing behaviours – “Mary’s had a tough couple of weeks”

· Shrugging their shoulders – “that’s just Nick”

· Sticking their fingers in their ears and humming a tune – “what bad behaviour, I didn’t see it”

They justify their behaviour by describing themselves as a permissive leader, giving people space to be who they are and not micro managing them, in reality they fear holding people to account. Don’t we all? It’s really tough to pick someone up on behaviour that is harming the team, it’s a risk and yet if we don’t do it we risk something worse – a slowly declining performance and a team that becomes really irritating to be part of.

You also hold back the personal development of your individuals. If you have a moaner in your team that you turn a blind eye to, guess what? They get known as a moaner and however hard they try to get that promotion or become part of that interesting project team their reputation goes before them and they never achieve their potential …..all because you did not let them know that behaviour was harming themselves and the team.

Once the leader has begun to encourage better behaviour it gives all team members the signal that it’s ok to do this too and to expect to receive feedback in return. It has to be in the spirit of making the team better and is always easier when the team has a high level of trust. This is not an excuse to pull colleagues apart it’s an excuse to make everyone the best they can be for the good of the team and the organisation.

If you feel able a good exercise is to ask all team members to write down a positive behaviour for each team member, something they value their colleagues for and then one that they would like to see improved or increased for the good of the team. The leader should get the feedback first so they can model the receiving of the good and the improvements. It’s amazing how the affirmation of positive behaviour creates a real bond in a team and the less than productive behaviour becomes something to aim for. We usually find that the less than good behaviour is always something recognised by the recipient and is something they may welcome working on.

All of us can point to someone in our careers that gave us some feedback on our less productive behaviours, and we thank them for it. Hearing it may not have been comfortable but we appreciated the time and energy that person put into helping us round off a sharp edge and the fact that they were on our side.

Wouldn’t you like to be that person for someone else? Isn’t it worth it to make your team really fly?